At the Family Peace Initiative, we have several trained victim advocates on staff as BIP facilitators. They bring a knowledge of victim centered work and domestic violence dynamics that absolutely make us better. I was surprised to learn that advocates can pay a high price with their colleagues when they get involved in our work. They receive comments such as "What is making you go to the dark side?", like they are betraying victims by helping provide services to those who batter. Contrary to their colleagues' assumptions, many advocates report becoming better at their work with victims after they became skilled at working with those who batter.
The Family Peace Initiative program was developed initially in a domestic violence shelter program in the early 1990's. This was prompted by the shelter serving the 7th victim of the same man. It became clear that, while providing safety and services to victims was critical, something needed to be done to address the batterer's behavior. While our BIP had this natural connection to victim services, that is not the case for all batterer intervention programs—nor is it the case for all advocacy programs to have a connection with BIPs.
There is some understandable resistance that advocates must overcome to be successful in the BIP arena. Some of the resistance is rooted in the suspicion of whether any of those who batter can change. The daily experience of hearing and seeing the damage done by those who batter can certainly have an impact on those serving victims. Advocates are often surprised when they first attend Family Peace Initiative group sessions and see with their own eyes some participants making positive change.
“Working with those who batter without a doubt made me a better advocate for victims.”
Additionally, it is not unusual for advocates come to batterer intervention work angry. They are motivated to hold abusive men accountable and stand up for all victims. It makes sense that advocates might be angry, and wear what some call their "advocate's armor". Eventually, these advocates find their anger is a barrier to becoming a skilled BIP facilitator. It is hard to connect and be present with anyone when we start from a framework of anger. One advocate who facilitated groups for us recalled a pivotal day when a group member said something she found extremely funny and she laughed hysterically. This began her realization that the men in her group were more than "monsters". There was something extremely likeable about many of these men. She could see why the victims she worked with might actually love them. Once she saw batterers as unique individuals with different attributes, she was able to grow her skills as a facilitator. More importantly, she would report the true fruit of her labor as: “Working with those who batter without a doubt made me a better advocate for victims.”
The benefit of victim advocates on the field of batterer intervention has long been recognized. Unfortunately, the benefits of BIP on victim advocacy is often overlooked.
The benefit of victim advocates on the field of batterer intervention has long been recognized. Unfortunately, the benefits of BIP on victim advocacy is often overlooked. To all of the advocates who have the courage and curiosity to dip their toes in the BIP waters, I say, "Welcome to the dark side." I believe you'll find this really is NOT the dark side, but an opportunity for you to become even better at keeping current victims safe, and preventing future victimization.